art by Eleanor Bennett
The Taking Tree
by Emily C. Skaftun
***Editor's Note: This is an adult fable, not for children.***
The boy, who was an old man, did not stay long. As he hobbled out of the forest, the tree, who was only a stump, watched his cane of burnished wood. Her wood.
It all came back to her: the roaring of the chainsaw, sap bleeding from her wounds, the torment when the boy dismembered her, taking her limbs for a house and her trunk for a boat. She remembered watching her felled body dragged away across the forest floor.
After the old man limped away the tree never saw him again, and she was very sad indeed. Life as a stump was boring. She missed the chittering of squirrels in her branches, the feeling of wind rustling her leaves. The tree wished for death. After all, what was an apple tree without apples and leaves and branches or even a trunk?
But a strange thing happened. The tree's roots lived on, a twisting, spreading mass of subterranean life, and as the years passed they shot up saplings that ringed the stump. These saplings grew and grew until they united into a massive, gnarled apple tree, their flesh becoming one. The tree was the mightiest in the forest, and though she was alone she was pleased and proud.
Birds and chipmunks and other forest friends returned to her, and the tree, at long last, felt happy. They nested and nuzzled into her, and the tree vowed never to take these true friends for granted. She taught them which apples they could eat, and they never took too many or strayed too close to the tree's hollow heart.
Her long years of misery had changed the tree.
One day a child came to the forest: a little girl, whose blonde hair reminded the tree of the boy she'd once loved. For one weak moment the tree hoped she had found another human friend, someone who would climb her trunk and swing from her branches and eat her apples and love her.
The girl paused, looking up into the tree's leafy canopy as if into her soul. She eyed the beautiful red apples with hunger.